Thursday, February 13, 2014

Did Matthew Write the Gospel of Matthew?

A continuing discussion going on in the Catholic Debate Forum, I thought I'd share here too.  Feel free to add your comments...

> Mike (to Ferde): JohnR doesn't need to answer your challenge.
sw: "Need" is not the right word...  but JohnR makes an assertion, which Ferde asked for some evidence. 

> Mike: If he believes as he says, all he need do to prove it is tack "no one knows who wrote the gospels" at the end of his emails as a signature line, and then, if people think he is not proving anything, they are just working for the devil.

sw: It's one thing to post a tagline to the end of one posts, it's another to make an unsupported assertion.
Mike:  Incorrect, Ferde has worded his tagline for the express purpose of engaging in the juvenile act of provoking others to argue.  It would be like an atheist saying "If Hitler taught it, it must be true".  No seriousness whatsoever, mere provocation.
sw: Incorrect?  By which standard?  Taglines are not intended to be complete arguments - they are, at best, a statement of ones personal opinion.  That being said, it would be quite incorrect to compare Atheists to Hitler - Hitler was not an Atheist!  Now, if your statement was "It would be like an Arian Skinhead saying 'If Hitler taught it, it must be true,'"  well, then you have a valid comparison.  Ferde believes if the Catholic Church teaches it, it must be true.  It's his opinion and he's entitled to it.  You're entitled to the opinion that it is rational to doubt the Mattian authorship of the Gospel According to St. Matthew.  MY challenge would be, upon what grounds do you base your opinion?  Do you base it upon modernist revisionists?  Back to the point, I seriously accept Ferde's opinion to be his as much as I accept your opinion to be yours.  If you wish to engage the statement, then do so validly, that's all I ask.

sw:  To then refer to a known modernist/revisionist "scholar" - and only one - hardly makes a case for "no one knows..."  much less "all scholars know this is true."  What JohnR has done is present an invalid argument, and one which cannot possibly be proven - it is a non-argument.

Mike: the average laymen does, quite often, refer to consensus on biblical authorship issues as "all scholars". 

sw:  The average ignorant person might make such claims, but anyone who has at least a high school education, and especially if they have even a LITTLE college education, would not make such an over generalization.  There is simply NOTHING upon which "all scholars" agree.  NOTHING!  Name a subject and a scholarly position and I'll bet you a cup of coffee that I can find another scholar and/or group of scholars who disagrees.
Mike:  If you think you are gaining ground because there are some scholars in the world who believe apostle John wrote John, you aren't. 

sw:  Gaining ground?  No, I've merely destroyed JohnR's false assertion.  Such hyperbole has no place in debate.
Mike: You've picked up on an unguarded statement by somebody and acted like it's incorrect nature is some terrible evil that must be uprooted from the nursery school.  I could just as easily say that everybody loves Jesus, without intending to say that every individual loves Jesus.  There IS such a thing as generalization.

sw: There is such a thing as generalization and there's also such a thing as over-generalization.  JohnR's position is, at best, the latter and is quite false.  If ANYONE comes in here and starts off (JohnR is just getting started here) with such over-generalized hyperbole, then such arguments will be slapped down hard.  If we let him get away with that nonsense, then it would be much harder to pin him down in further debate.  So, his arguments are put in their place - he can choose to start over with valid statements, or accept the defeat of his arguments.  Your defense of his hyperbole has not helped his arguments, not in the least.
sw: Can you "know" that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence?  Are you "sure" about that?  Did you see him write it, or do you have some "faith" in those who preserve American history who state he did?  Perhaps there is also evidence that Jefferson did not write the Declaration alone?  Maybe you've heard he wrote it after there was a committee of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Thomas Jefferson?  After he wrote it, Franklin and Adams made revisions, then it was presented to the Continental Congress on July 1, 1776 - and more revisions were made, and the final draft was written, presented and signed on July 4, 1776.  How much of this do you "know?"  And again, how do you "know" this?  Because you have "faith" in historians. 
Mike: agreed, but not the kind of faith says the issues are beyond debate.  That's where secular faith in secular historical consensus differs from Christian faith in a few fundamentalist scholars who find Eusebius and Papias credible.  I also don't go around saying those who disagree with my theories on authorship of the DOI secretly know that I'm right, but by reason of irrationality, try to pretend that the case for Jefferson authorship is weak.  Contrast this with fundies who say unbelievers know the evidence for Jesus' resurrection is compelling but try to excuse it away anyway.

sw:  First off, keep in mind - this forum is not a "Fundie" forum.  We are Catholics, most of whom are quite orthodox in our perspective of the Catholic Church.  We are not swayed by each wind which comes our way, and especially not the wind which blew through the world (not just the Catholic Church) in the 1960's through 1970's and even into the 80's.  We view the Catholic Church in the "big picture" throughout ALL of history, not just bits and pieces of history and we're not limited to the last 500 years of history either.
sw: Secondly, you seem to miss my point.  Jefferson did NOT write the Declaration of Independence.  At first it was a committee of five, then it was re-written again after the committee of the Continental Congress looked at it.  It can be quite scholarly argued that Jefferson did not write the Declaration of Independence.

sw:  All this was just over 200 years ago, and you're debating who wrote the Book of Matthew almost 2000 years ago! 

Mike: I wouldn't be debating it were it not for fundie Christians...

sw: Again, this is not a Fundie Christian forum.
Mike ...who incorrectly assert that the resurrection of Jesus is a solidly established historical fact that unbelievers secretly know is true, but who by reason of sin try to pretend that its not persuasive. 

sw: Well, for Christians it is solidly established truth that Jesus rose from the dead.  It was not widely accepted throughout the known world at the time of the first Catholics - but eventually it did become a worldwide phenomena.  It is an absolute truth that no other man has affected the entire world as much as Jesus, the One whom we call the Christ, did.
Mike: I attack those who insult my intelligence. 

sw: Don't attack persons, attack their arguments if you feel as though you should, but don't go down the path of invalidity in ad hominem arguments.
Mike: My comments on Papias have demonstrated that exactly how much canonical Greek Matthew goes back to apostle Matthew is actually not known, logically diminishing whatever this particular form of the gospel contributes to resurrection evidence.  The issue is not whether Matthew was an eyewitness, but doubts about his authorship of canonical Greek Matthew can be rationally justified. 

sw: And ironically, it is one of the same sources you refer to which we often refer to pointing to the fact that Matthew was not originally written in Greek, but "in the Aramaic language."
Papias, bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor, wrote, "Matthew compiled the sayings [of the Lord] in the Aramaic language, and everyone translated them as well as he could" (Explanation of the Sayings of the Lord [cited by Eusebius in History of the Church 3:39]).

Eusebius himself declared that "Matthew had begun by preaching to the Hebrews, and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own Gospel to writing in his native tongue [Aramaic], so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote" (History of the Church 3:24 [inter 300-325]). [1]
sw: So, those of us who look back to Papias and Eusebius are not really trying to prove St. Matthew the Apostle wrote the Gospel of Matthew, but we're showing that not only did he write this Gospel, but he wrote it in Aramaic. 
Mike: They can.  Attacking the credibility of the church fathers saying Matthew wrote Matthew is rather elementary for one versed in the proper rules of historiography.  I don't prove Matthew didn't write it.  I prove instead that it is reasonable to doubt Matthian authorship of canonical Greek Matthew.

sw: There are more references too:
Sometime after 244 the Scripture scholar Origen wrote, "Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism and published in the Hebrew language" (Commentaries on Matthew [cited by Eusebius in History of the Church 6:25]). [2]

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. (Ireneus, 170 CE, Against Heresies 3.1.1) [3]

“These, then, are the parallel passages of the four; let us try to see as clearly as we can what is the purport of each and wherein they differ from each other. And we will begin with Matthew, who is reported by tradition to have published his Gospel before the others, to the Hebrews, those, namely, of the circumcision who believed.”  (Origen, Commentary on John 6.17). [4]
sw:  There are many, many scholars who agree with these testimonies - so again, certainly not "all scholars agree" with "JohnR."

sw:  Why do you not trust the historians who say it was St. Matthew, the Apostle, who wrote it? 

Mike: For the same reason you don't trust the historians like Hegesippus, Clement, Jerome and Epiphanius who say James became a Jewish High Priest.

sw: I am not familiar with this argument about James, I've never argued for or against it - so how are you saying I don't trust it?
 sw: Now, that being said - why do you challenge the authorship of the Book of Matthew?
Mike: I don't.  It was obviously authored by somebody.  I challenge instead the theory that apostle Matthew was the author of canonical Greek Matthew.  He very well could be.  My only purpose is to show that reasonable people could reasonably disagree over how persuasive the evidence in favor of Matthian authorship really is.

sw:  Certainly people can disagree, but I have not seen a "reasonable" argument against Matthew's authorship.
 sw: What difference does it really make? 

Mike: if it is unlikely that apostle Matthew wrote canonical Greek Matthew, then this gospel's specific contribution to the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is effectively discounted.  Unless you think anonymous testimony is good evidence?

sw: That's a big "if" there - and I do not believe you've proven any such unlikeliness.  You've presented your opinion, and again, you're certainly entitled to it.  I'm still inclined to disagree and support Matthian authorship.
sw:   What if it were written by Peter? 

Mike: then I'd tell the jury about Peter's alleged fickle nature for denying Christ, and later giving in to the Judaizers, and tell them that how much Peter's previous problems with truth-telling bear on his truth claims in a gospel, is for they and they alone to subjectively decide.

sw:  Well, it wasn't written by St. Peter, and that wasn't the point - I just used that name, I could have used "Sam the Barber" for the sake of that question.  The point of that question was to get us to the next question...
sw:  Does that make it less "God's Word?" 

Mike: the issue is not whether Matthew's gospel is god's word, but whether it was authored by Matthew.

sw:  I know, I asked why does it matter - and your response was a big "if" statement.
sw:  Upon what authority would you deny it is God's Word? 

Mike: the authority of needing coherence in language.  The concept of "God" is incoherent as described in the bible.  If you've got a being who can see without eyes, hear without ears, and can influence physical objects by non-physical forces, then I've got Alice in Wonderland, since in both cases, making sense is optional, not mandatory.

sw:  Again, I do not believe you've made a case for a lack of coherence.  I happen to agree with you though, God doesn't HAVE to make sense, fortunately, He does.
sw:  If you're not denying it is God's Word, then what's the point of this argument?

Mike: Fundie Christians...

sw:  Again, this is NOT a "Fundie Christian" forum.
Mike:  ...loudmouth about how obviously true the resurrection of Jesus is and thus insult the intelligence of skeptics and atheists. 

sw:  I am not saying the evidence for the Resurrection is "obvious" nor that there is absolute proof.  I believe that the Resurrection is part of what we call "The Mystery of Faith."  If it were proven, one would not need faith.  Christianity is a religion of faith, not proof.
Mike:  They are thus saying the evidence in favor of their hypothesis is persuasive. 

sw: I am not saying that.  Again, I am not a Fundie.
Mike:  They are thus saying Matthew, an alleged eyewitness of the resurrection, gave credible testimony that survives to us today. 

sw: I have no doubt that St. Matthew was an eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I accept the testimony which is recorded not only in St. Matthew's writing, but St. Luke's, St. Mark's and St. John's too - and let's not forget St. Paul, St. Peter and St. James' works too.  Keep in mind, for the first 400 years of the Catholic Church there was no "Bible" - those were SEPARATE books, and SEPARATE testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are not solely dependent upon Eusebius.  You've discounted the fact that these separate books pre-existed Eusebius.
Mike:  That evidence requires resolution of credibility issues with Papias and Eusebius and any other church father that said Matthew wrote Matthew. 

sw:  Sorry, but I don't agree that we are so dependent upon Eusebius.  Josephus, the Jewish historian, acknowledges the existence of Jesus Christ and the writings of His followers too.  If you are truly being objective about this - you'll consider the evidence, ALL of it, and not be so convinced that Matthew didn't write the Gospel which bears his name.
Mike:  I disagree with these fundies that Papias and Eusebius should be presumed credible.  If fundies cannot defend the credibility of such church fathers, then Matthew's alleged particular contribution to resurrection evidence is discounted.  The point of the argument is that the resurrection of Jesus is far less convincing than fundies say it is.  

sw: Whether or not a "Fundie" can prove the credibility of Papias and Eusebius does not prove they are not credible.  Your position is a non sequitur. 
Mike:  There ARE historical and credibility issues for this matter unlikely capable of definitive resolution, and therefore, reasonable people could reasonably disagree whether Matthew counts as resurrection evidence at all.

sw:  Again, I await some "reasonable evidence" to the contrary, but again, I accept your right to your opinion too.  I just don't have to agree with you.  You're coming across as dogmatic as the "Fundie Christians" you're condemning for their presumptuous arguments.
Mike:  I have no problems with Christians believing Jesus rose from the dead and citing evidence in support thereof.  I have serious problems with fundie Christians who insist that all disagreement with the resurrection hypothesis is irrational.

sw:  Again, we're not "Fundie Christians" here - at least not the Catholic apologists here.  We may have some of those whom you call "Fundie Christians," (though they might not appreciate your label of "Fundie"), but they are among the challengers here, like yourself.  In that respect, we don't see you as much different from them, especially when you come across as you have thus far.
[4] ibid.

Accendat in nobis Dominus ignem sui amoris, et flammam aeternae caritatis. Amen.

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